Govt dilly-dallies on alternatives as fuel crisis worsens

Kathmandu, October 14

In what appears to be total disregard for the plight of the general public, the government seems to be in no hurry to ease the current fuel crisis.

Addressing a programme here today, Commerce Secretary Naindra Prasad Upadhyay said the ministry is ‘preparing to bring immediate, short-term and long-term plans for supply of fuel and other essentials’. His statement is sure to raise some brows, if not add to the ire of the public, who have been reeling under severe fuel shortage for the last three weeks.

If what the commerce secretary said is anything to go by, it seems the government has been planning to cope with the current fuel crisis rather than taking any decision or approaching a third country to purchase fuel.

In the wake of the crisis, several options were floated, including importing fuel from China, airlifting fuel and opening the sector to private players. However, it seems the government did not even consider any of the alternatives seriously while the situation worsened with continuous obstruction in the movement of vehicles from India to Nepal.

As China is also our neighbour, many were hopeful that the government would explore the possibility of importing fuel from the country. The parliamentary committees — Public Accounts Committee, as well as Industry, Commerce and Consumer Welfare Committee — had also directed the government to look for alternatives for importing fuel, but the government has not done so yet.

“The government has not approached the government of China for importing fuel,” informed Shankar Das Bairagi, secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The government has extended full authority to Nepal Oil Corporation — the state-owned petroleum supply monopoly — to seek the option of importing fuel and signing a contract with a reliable party. According to NOC officials, unless talks are held and agreements are signed at government-to-government (G2G) level, it would not be possible to import fuel from China.

“Small deals like Raxaul-Amlekhganj petroleum pipeline agreement were signed at G2G level with India. So, how is it possible to import petroleum products from China at the level of NOC?” a highly-placed source at NOC wondered, requesting anonymity.

Last week NOC had sought expression of interest from global bidders to supply petroleum products for 15 days in the first lot. It has yet to complete the evaluation process of EoI. Earlier, NOC had planned to award the contract to a bidder by yesterday. When contacted today, Deepak Baral, spokesperson for NOC, said, “We are in the process of evaluation and will start negotiations thereafter.”

According to Baral, Indian Oil Corporation, which has been supplying fuel to NOC, has committed to providing sufficient fuel to Nepal after the NOC sought EoI from global suppliers. IOC has also committed to providing larger chunk of fuel from Barauni depot till the tension in Birgunj (Raxaul) continues. IOC’s Raxaul depot caters to over 60 per cent of fuel supply to Nepal. As per the commitment, NOC’s fuel tankers have received load from the different depots of IOC for two regular days — Monday and Tuesday. According to Sushil Bhattarai, acting deputy managing director of NOC, today IOC’s Barauni depot refilled only nine tankers of the 40 that were sent there.”Siliguri depot refilled only six out of 17 tankers sent. Of the 60 tankers sent to Betalpur and Gonda depots, only 11 were refilled. Only three tankers out of 15 sent to Banthara depot were refilled.